England’s fracking ban has once again been reinstated by the new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, just a month after it was lifted by his predecessor Liz Truss.
When asked about the issue during Prime Ministers Questions, Sunak told MPs he stands “by the manifesto”, which banned fracking in England following opposition from scientists and local communities in 2019.
Truss had opted to bring back fracking to help meet the rising demand for fuel in the wake of the war in Ukraine, however, her decision was not popular, with a vote on the issue the evening before she resigned called “inexcusable” and an “absolute disgrace” by Tory MP Sir Charles Walker, after accusations that MPs were bullied and physically forced into voting.
So, what is fracking and is it banned again in England? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is fracking?
Fracking, which is short for hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting oil and natural gas from shale rock. It involves drilling a vertical well into the shale rock, penetrating the surface horizontally. Chemicals and water are pumped into the well at a high pressure casuing fractures in the shale which allows the oil and gas to escape to the surface.
Fracking is a controversial process as it has been linked to water pollution and climate change, with many countries banning the practise in Europe.
Where could fracking take place in the UK?
According to The British Geological Survey (BGS) there are three areas in England where fracking could be possible due to shale gas reserves.
These areas are:
- Carboniferous Bowland–Hodder area in Lancashire and the Midlands
- Jurassic Weald Basin in south England
- Wessex area in south England
The BGS undertook research into potential fracking areas between 2013-2016, providing the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), with estimates of potential shale gas reserves.
Why was fracking banned?
The government banned fracking in the UK in November 2019 after a report from the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) found that the process could not be done in a way to accurately predict tremors. Tremors and earthquakes have long been associated with fracking and started to make headlines after locals complained about the activity at a site on Preston New Road.
The report deemed that predicting when these tremors would occur was “not possible with current technology.” Following on from the report fracking was immediately banned, with proposals for fracking sites no longer accepted.
Sunak has decided to uphold the ban telling MPs he stands “by the manifesto”. The 2019 Tory manifesto states the fracking ban will be in place until new scientific evidence about its safety is confirmed.
It states: “We placed a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect. Having listened to local communities, we have ruled out changes to the planning system. We will not support fracking unless the science shows categorically that it can be done safely.”
Is fracking bad?
Fracking has been associated with minor earthquakes and tremors in the UK. In 2011 a total of 58 earthquakes were linked to fracking in Preese Hall, Preston, with one measuring 2.2 on the Richter scale. Whilst in 2019, 120 tremors were recorded during drilling for shale gas extraction in Preston, with one measuring 2.9 on the Richter scale.
It was these incidents that led to fracking being banned in the UK as predicting the tremors was “not possible with current technology.” As well as earthquakes, fracking has also been linked to water pollution, an investigation by the New York Times in 2014 found water spills at a fracking site in North Dakota had “impacted surface and groundwater”.
But in a 2015 report by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fracking was cleared of “widespread” and “systematic” pollution.
What happened at the fracking vote in Parliament?
The evening before Truss resigned there were chaotic scenes in Parliament after MPs accused chief whips of bullying and physically forcing their colleagues to vote.
Speaking to the BBC MP Sir Charles Walker said: “To be perfectly honest, this whole affair is inexcusable. It is a pitiful reflection on the Conservative Parliamentary Party at every level and it reflects really badly obviously on the government of the day.”
“This is an absolute disgrace. As a Tory MP of 17 years who’s never been a minister, who’s got on with it loyally most of the time, I think it’s a shambles and a disgrace. I think it is utterly appalling. I’m livid.”